Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Devils and Dandelions: Being Wheat in a World of Weeds - A sermon by Matt Haines


Proper 11, Year A- St. Andrew & All Souls' Episcopal Church, Portland
Not long ago, I was walking through my front lawn and saw a dandelion which had gone to seed. I was instantly transported to my childhood when I would take the cottony flower in my hand and blow with all my might. WHEW; it was so fun to watch those little white specks take air. I felt so powerful. One day though, my grandmother watched me do this and called me over to her. She explained that I shouldn’t do that. I argued that it was so fun. She agreed that it looked fun, but she explained that these little white specks were actually bad seeds. These seeds caused weeds which smother the good flowers and the vegetable garden, and even ruined the lawn. I felt terrible because I thought I was doing something harmless, but now I had helped to ruin things. She smiled and said "It’s ok; you didn’t know. Besides, you are a good kid."

Thirty years later I still wonder sometimes, "Am I a good kid?" We all ask that question don’t we? What does it mean to be good—what does it mean to be evil?

Jesus’ parable of the "Wheat and the Chaff" (MT 13:24-30, 36-43) uses similar imagery. There is a field and an enemy had come by night and seeded weeds therein. The followers of the "evil one" planted weeds which threatened to smother and kill the wheat. The servants in the parable wanted to help by pulling out the weeds in order to save the wheat. The master said not to for fear of destroying the good with the bad—a sort of agricultural collateral damage. Jesus warns against this method when he explains that his followers were to be the good plants and that the angels would sort through the harvest at the end. Our job is simple, be the good kid. In other words, be the good seed.

Wait a minute! Aren’t we morally obligated to pull the weeds to protect the good seeds? Jesus’ answer—‘no’! It doesn’t work that way. Pulling weeds in this context is murderous to the good plants as well, and frankly it is the work of others. It is the work of angels.



An unknown counter-protester at a Westboro Baptist
Church demonstration in February of 2008
PHOTO CREDIT: Terry Ross (flickr.com/qnr)
Used by Creative Commons License.
Some rights reserved.
I would like to offer a real world example of this—Pastor Fred Phelps. He is that Westboro Baptist preacher in the cowboy hat who would picket the funerals with graphic signs and slurs stating that "God hates___" (insert the blank with a slur here). He and his followers blamed gay people for every possible ill and misfortune. He saw his job as pulling out the weeds (gay sinners) to protect the wheat (the non-gay righteous). For the LGBTQ community, this man was perhaps the most self-righteous and singly destructive soul of the past several decades. He started by protesting the funerals of people who died of AIDS and told their grieving families that God was happy that their loved one died and that he was happy that they were now in hell. Then he focused on people who died due to antigay or transphobic violence and yelled to all in ear shot that "God hates___" (insert the blank with a slur here). He picketed churches and schools that showed mercy to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. (It became almost an honor for a while to get picketed by these fanatics. It meant that you were doing something nice.) Finally, he started picketing those soldiers who had fallen in battle. Their 'sin' was merely serving a country which tolerated certain people. "God hates___" (insert "America" here). This man and his church had decided that they saw evil weeds which needed to be plucked and they felt commanded to do so.

These misguided people felt powerful casting bad seed and pulling up the good. They claimed to possess the knowledge of good and evil. Incidentally, that was the original sin! Eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge banished Adam and Eve. The evil one tempted them to be equal to God in this way. The second sin, fratricide, happened soon thereafter. We are in danger of killing our brothers and sisters when we appoint ourselves to weed the garden. We become like old Fred Phelps.

So what are we to do in the face of sin and evil? What do we do about the weeds? First of all, we need to stop blowing the dandelions we encounter in our daily lives (no matter how fun it is). We all encounter evil such as: gossip, rumors, suspicion, violence, oppression, injustice and prejudice. We have many opportunities to spread sin—we are called to stop. Remember that bit about wailing and gnashing of teeth? We must leave the dandelions alone!

As seeds of good we are called to be fruitful. We are wheat called to nourish the world. We are not to be the seeds kept in the barn of last week’s gospel. We are called to out-number the weeds. How do we know that we are indeed good instead of evil? In the Wisdom of Solomon we are given insight into this reality.
Although you are sovereign in strength, you [God] judge with mildness,
and with great forbearance you govern us;
for you have power to act whenever you choose.
Through such works you have taught your people
that the righteous must be kind,
and you have filled your children with good hope,
because you give repentance for sins.
- WISDOM 12: 18-19  
God judges with mildness: we don’t get to judge at all. The righteous are kind. If we are not kind, it is a pretty good chance that we are not sowing the good seed. We are either spreading weeds or pulling out good seed with the bad (Remember, we are supposed to be the wheat!).  God gives us hope though repentance. When we find ourselves being unkind, we need to repent. That is our hope.

Incidentally, some of the most beautiful ways I have ever seen this happen were grace-filled responses to some of Fred Phelps’ protests. Groups of people dressed as angels often came to these picketed funerals and surrounded the messengers of hate with their wings and sang hymns to drown them out, allowing families an opportunity to grieve surrounded by holiness. Bikers on Harleys—perhaps even a few "Hell’s Angels"— escorted the hearses of fallen veterans, drowning out hateful slurs with their engines of love and support. Notice how they did not pick the weeds; they planted more good seed to surround the weeds.

You may have heard that Fred Phelps died this year. He was a complex man. It turns out he started his career as well-respected civil rights lawyer. He had also previously run for public office as a Democrat. Yet, he turned in a different direction.

Late in his life, his church family turned on him. The church which he founded actually excommunicated him. His heresy--wait for it--was attempting to bring more kindness to the way church members and leaders treated one other. Is it possible he had some hope in repentance after all? The elders were unable to see any good seeds in him as they weeded their own weird little garden. As he lay dying, one of his sons--who had left the church years ago-- remarked that the church elders had taken away the only thing that brought his father joy. They held no funeral for him. You see, pulling weeds is tricky!

"Dandelion 2"
PHOTO CREDIT: lc shinazy
Used under Creative Commons License
Some rights reserved
When old Fred Phelps died there were a lot of mixed feelings in the communities which he had hurt. In fact, I have not fully been able to address my own hurt by his brand of Christianity. Yet I was touched by a certain response of people who understood how to sow good seed. These people simply stood outside the Westboro church with a sign. It read, "We’re sorry for your loss". How profound!

"We’re sorry for your loss". Kindness and mercy was offered by the very same folks this man hurt for decades. They could have felt powerful blowing dandelions in his lawn. They could have self-righteously pulled such weeds out of their community garden. Instead, they were examples of nourishing wheat. They planted seeds of love to surround the weeds and trusted in their own kindness, God’s merciful judgment and the harvesting skills of angels.

Looking around the world we can see that a lot seems to be going to seed. Evil is afoot and the weeds seem to strangle the good seeds. We know what to do. We are to wait for Jesus and the angels to sort out the wheat from the weeds. Meanwhile, we are to grow and become righteous and nutritious for a hungry world around us.

Jesus said, "Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!"

Let us use our ears to hear! Amen.

Matt Haines is Integrity's Vice-President for Local Affairs and active in the Diocese of Oregon

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Witnessing History: Vivian Taylor Recalls Watching President Sign Anti-Discrimination Order

President Barack Obama
PHOTO CREDIT: Susan Russell
On Monday, July 21, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order which added sexual orientation and gender identity to the Equal Employment Opportunity rules set out by several of his predecessors.  It covers federal employees and employees working for third-party organizations under federal contracts.  Integrity's Executive Director, Vivian Taylor, was in attendance because she was among a number of prominent Episcopalians working for LGBT equality who signed an open letter urging the President not to include a clause which would grant exemption from the order to those claiming their religious conscience prevented them from complying.  She was joined at the White House by the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, retired bishop of New Hampshire, and the Rev. Canon Susan Russell, associate pastor at All Saints: Pasadena and former president of Integrity.

What was the first thing that went through your head when you heard you would witness the President signing this Executive Order?

The first thing that I thought about was, "Thank God! I get to be present for this huge, important moment, which will affects 20% of the American workforce."  I was honored to be a witness to this act, which recognized the value of millions of American workers.

I'm reminded of a verse from the Epistle of St. James (Ch. 5: Vs. 11)  which has always been a favorite piece of scripture for me.  "Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful."  I'm very grateful for this order, which calls for equal treatment of all workers whose employers receive funds from the federal government.

What was it like being in the White House?

This wasn't my first visit, but I've found that time always goes by very quickly.  Justice work can often feel extremely lonely, and it is heartening to be among a crowd of people, be they secular or people of faith, who are being recognized or are there witnessing the fruits of their labor, as took place today.

Some self-described progressive Christians cautioned the President about passing this order without giving religious groups an "out".  Can you talk about why you and 99 other faith leaders feel differently?

While it is always important to respect people's beliefs, it is also crucial not to legitimize any biases they may hold toward a particular group, in this case LGBT people.  We've recently seen attempts to create legislation to do exactly that in the private sector, so we felt it was important to make sure the President's order did make room for that kind of discrimination.  Integrity's local organizers recently helped defeat such a bill in Oregon, and our bishops in Kansas spoke out against a similar effort, which was also defeated.  Even/especially at a time when we're making marked progress, we must remain vigilant to any effort to enshrine bias into the law.

Some federal employees say the executive order passed in 1998, which added sexual orientation to their non-discrimination protection, aren't consistently enforced.  Do you think things will be different now?

Absolutely.  Not only is the issue something that is much better understood by Americans than even a few years ago, It also clarifies the previous regulations and refocuses our attention on  them, so I have reason to feel confident.

Describe your favorite moment from today.

Vivian Taylor & Mia Macy
My favorite moment was meeting and befriending Mia Macy, a transwoman and a fellow veteran, who saw firsthand that the existing statutes did not actually protect us.  After she left active duty, she began her gender transition while working as a federal contractor.  In 2013, the Department of Justice ruled that the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms acted illegally by passing her over for a position for which she was qualified, after learning she was transgender. The unemployment rate for trans people is about twice that of the general population, so it was a privilege to spend time with the woman whose case helped the President realize we couldn't wait for Congress to pass legislation to protect them.

Do you think most Episcopalians would agree with Integrity's presence today, as a church group?  What could those of us who see this as a strong step forward do to help those Christians who are concerned about what they describe as the government restricting their ability to act on their own beliefs.

I think the majority of the Episcopalians I have met in my travels this past year would celebrate today's ruling.  It's worth noting that at least 2/3 of our dioceses have elected to bless same-gender relationships in some form. There are still areas of the country, however, where we are "not there yet" particularly in our efforts to bridge the urban-rural divide.  We are in talks with a number of our partner organizations about a concentrated effort to equip more local organizers to witness our mission goals in these areas.  More on that soon!

The Right Rev. Gene Robinson, Vivian Taylor, the Rev. Canon Susan Russell


Saturday, July 19, 2014

PRESS RELEASE: Integrity Executive Director to Attend Signing of President's Anti-Discrimination Executive Order

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - PLEASE DISTRIBUTE WIDELY!


Integrity is pleased to announce that Executive Director, Vivian Taylor, will be among those present when President Barack Obama signs an Executive Order on Monday banning employment discrimination by Federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The directive will not include an exemption for faith-based groups beyond that already afforded by a previous Order, signed by President George W. Bush, which grants exceptions for those directly involved in ministry.  On July 8, Taylor joined prominent Episcopalians and progressive faith leaders in signing an open letter to the President which asked that a broader exemption, allowing further discrimination by faith-based employers on the basis of "religious freedom," not be included.

Other Episcopalians who signed the letter include:

  • The Very Rev. Gary Hall - Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter & St. Paul (“the National Cathedral”) in Washington, D.C.
  • The Right Rev. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire (retired) and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress
  • The Rev. Canon Susan Russell - Associate Pastor, All Saints: Pasadena, past president of Integrity
  • The Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale - President and Dean, Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass.
  • The Rev. Ed Bacon - Rector, All Saints: Pasadena
  • The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge - Chaplain at Boston University, Lecturer at Harvard University, Co-Convener of TransEpiscopal

The National Equality March passing the White House
in March of 2009
PHOTO CREDIT: Kyle Rush  (flickr.com/kylerush)
Used by Creative Commons License Some rights reserved
"I am deeply honored to represent Integrity at this historic event. Employment discrimination against our people is still a near-constant threat and burden," Taylor said.  

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reported in May that 18 states and the District of Columbia afford employment protections to LGBT people.  Three additional states offer protection on the basis of sexual orientation only.  The President’s order will affect nearly one-fifth of the nation’s workforce.

Integrity has been working with the Task Force and other faith-based advocates to combat discrimination in several states.  Integrity is working in Ohio to build support for the Equal Housing and Employment Act, an LGBT-inclusive piece of non-discrimination legislation. In May, an attempt to pass a "religious freedom" law intended to give businesses in Oregon the right to discriminate was defeated due in part to Integrity's efforts.

Taylor, who served in the United States Army in the Iraq war from 2009 to 2010, recently wrote about her personal experience with employment discrimination for the progressive faith blog Believe Out Loud.

Integrity is a member-supported nonprofit organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] Episcopalians and our straight friends. Since its founding by Dr. Louie Crew in 1974, Integrity has been the leading grassroots voice for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the
Episcopal Church and our equal access to its rites. Integrity activities include advocacy, worship, fellowship, education, communication, outreach, and service to the church. Through Integrity's evangelism, thousands of LGBT people, estranged from the Episcopal Church and other denominations, have returned to parish life.

Contact:
Melvin Soriano, Secretary & Director of Communications
mel@integrityusa.org
770 Mass Ave #390170
Cambridge MA 02139
United States of America
Ph: +1-626-600-2030

###

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bloody Sunday - Irish Rocker Spotlights Church Role in Anti-Gay Russia

Last spring, I wrote about a young woman named Dannika Nash who quoted the Macklemore song "Same Love" in some frank advice to the institutional church on behalf of milliennials. In a nutshell, she warned that if the church forced her generation to choose between it and their support of LGBT rights, it was going to be disappointed in the outcome. Her basic message was one that research clearly shows is shared by many in her generation, 30% of whom do not claim any faith affiliation at all. She implied that - for them - music and other aspects of their culture fulfill a social-consciousness need that religion does not.

Macklemore, classified as a rapper, was not afraid to call out the genre's reputation for homophobia and misogyny. In January of this year, he performed "Same Love" at the Grammy Awards while Queen Latifah witnessed the marriages of thirty couples, including some of the same gender.

I heard a song recently in my truck which caught my attention because the chorus starts out with the phrase "take me to church..."  Not only is this unfamiliar subject matter for popular music (for reasons explained above, I expect), but a Facebook buddy and his friends use the expression "go to church" as a euphemism for their favorite pastime (kayaking over waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest), and I thought he might get a chuckle out of a song that features that phrase.

 
Video for Hozier's "Take Me to Church"
(CAUTION: Violent Imagery)


Hozier at SXSW 2014
PHOTO CREDIT: WFUV Radio
Used under Creative Commons License
 Some rights reserved
It wasn't til I got home and read more about it that I understood the song's topic is no laughing matter.  Having only half-heard the words while driving, I discovered upon closer examination that Andrew Hozier Byrne (who goes by his middle name), a 24-year-old Irish man, is not asking to be brought to a religious institution, at least not the ones he knows.  Describing his experience as "Every Sunday's getting more bleak / A fresh poison each week"  Hozier (or at least the protagonist in the song) is -- like Ms. Nash -- eschewing life in the pews for a "religious experience" of another kind, in his case a lover.

What caught my attention, however, was the subject matter of the song's video.  It depicts -- in brutal honesty -- the abduction of a gay couple in Russia by a vigilante gang.  The connection to the lyrics was not immediately clear, but -- if you know a little background on what's going on there -- it starts to make sense.

For at least the last 12 years, anti-gay sentiment in Russia has been ramping up. Attempts to hold pride marches in Russian cities have been generally meant with political opposition and/or violent protests.  The country's Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders have all spoken out against the observances, with the Grand Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin encouraging flogging for the participants in the Moscow Pride of 2006.

"I always stand by the song and the point that the video made, so it’s never a chore," Hozier, who is not gay, told the London Evening Standard. "The song is about loving somebody, and the video is about people who would undermine what it is to love somebody."

Journalist Jeff Sharlet, whose books C Street and The Family document the degree of control a cadre of evangelical Christians have over Washington, traveled to Russia this fall in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics and painted a stark picture of gay life in the country which appeared in February's GQ.  Sharlet describes the growing hostility towards gay people as part of a larger social unraveling: Russian civilians, encouraged by their government and religious institutions, have taken matters into their own hands.
"There's a national network called Occupy Pedophilia, whose members torture gay men and post hugely popular videos of their 'interrogations' online. There are countless smaller, bristling movements, with names presumptuous (God's Will ) or absurd (Homophobic Wolf). There are babushkas who throw stones, and priests who bless the stones, and police who arrest their victims."
In the article, Sharlet describes shoot-ups in bars, rapes, beatings, and computer surveillance, (even on the part of private citizens).  Readers learn the measures to which people will go to survive, and the lengths others will go to tear apart the lives of complete strangers in pursuit of some dystopic fever-dream. We meet two families that live together symbiotically, presenting as heterosexual to the world as a cover for their actual same-gender partnerships.  Sharlet talks to both targets and perpetrators, attempting to help readers decipher what is behind the fear and violence.

The Duma in 2013 passed an "anti-propaganda law" which makes it illegal to communicate about "non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors. Of course what constitutes "propaganda" can be broadly interpreted to suit the occasion, and one could be punished for doing anything something as simple as holding hands anywhere "where children might see."  Victims of vigilante violence are laughed at or punished if they seek help from law enforcement.

Western Connection (AKA, Why We Should Care)

If the rationale of "protecting the children" sounds familiar, it is because it is the same mantra used to justify anti-gay laws in Africa, and -- lo and behold -- some of the same American evangelical voices, including Scott Lively, are taking at least partial credit. Lively is currently the target of a federal lawsuit under the Alien Tort Act for crimes against humanity, due to his involvement in getting Uganda's "Jail the Gays Bill" passed.  He toured that country in 2009 with several other Americans, stirring up anti-gay fear at a series of rallies.  He employed the same tactics in Russia and called the passage of the law there "one of the proudest achievements of my career".  His enthusiasm was shared by the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer.

Most American clergy, not unaware of shifting public opinion, are more nuanced in their positions on LGBT issues, sometimes head-scratchingly so.  Televangelist Joel Osteen told Larry King "I believe homosexuality is a sin, but I don't want to preach about it." Jim Wallis of Sojourners (who is frequently described as a progressive) drafted and circulated a letter to Barack Obama in favor of a "religious exemption" to the President's executive order on discrimination by companies holding federal contracts.  A number of the large, venue-based churches like Hillsong NYC, attempt to avoid the topic altogether.

But we can't not talk about it, so long as crises as large and terrifying as the one unfolding in Russia continue to happen, and as long as there are places in our own "civilized" country where people think belonging to a church makes it okay for you to be a bully and want that enshrined in the law.  For those of us who believe there is a place for everyone at God's table, the recent string of domestic victories should not be mistaken as a sign that we're anywhere near done doing justice work. The "religious freedom" laws being introduced in various quarters are a clear sign of that.

Nor can we rest on our laurels while we know that hurtful things are being done in God's name anywhere in the world. The one thing our Savior didn't abide well is hypocrisy, and the YouTube generation is reminding us of that by voting with its feet.  Perhaps if they saw our churches witnessing to the pain being inflicted in the name of religion and how this conflicts with the Gospel we know, they'd be more inclined to stick around.

Christian Paolino is the Chair of the Integrity Stakeholders' Council and Diocesan Organizer for Newark.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Rev. William H. Terry: "Not Peace, but a Sword"

Jesus said to the twelve apostles, "A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.

Do not fear those who kill the body but 
cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother
, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

- MATTHEW 10:24-39
That was the Gospel reading for the day on June 22nd. I have taken the liberty of underlining key ideas or passages that support my thoughts and formed the words of my sermon on that Sunday. While contemplating what appears to be a Jesus that is out of step with our 21st century idealization the ironies of this brief encounter tumbled upon me. The Gospel opens by warning of those demonizing a household that preaches truth and the integrity and also for those who follow the master of the household. Even then Jesus brings stark attention to the most profound intimacy that the God, creator, has with his creation – "even the hairs of your head are all counted" so fear not.  Well and good and consistent with whom I think or we think of as Jesus and then the image, like a glass, is shattered! "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." This loud and one-time proclamation can either be ignored and discarded because it does not meet our fantasy of the soft and air-brushed Jesus with the little children or the lamb. Or, it can be dealt with on its terms, not ours.

I would like to suggest that the "sword," a tool of division, destruction, and violence, is in fact the sword of righteousness, truth, and justice. It also is a sword that singularly stands as a symbol for the ensuing divisions that arise out of justice work. Even then the sword of Jesus is at once a sword of profound counter-cultural charity. It can and often does cause pain. The question then may be asked what sort of pain?

The violence of peace making is worked out in ways that sometimes daunt us. By nature, I am sure that most think that if we offer goodness and kindness we should and will receive goodness and kindness in return. Even Jesus admonished his disciples, at one point, to leave towns or homes that did not reciprocate with "peace." Somehow we believe that we are owed a kindly return for our kindness. In that very thought there is a kind of arrogance that permeates works of justice and mercy. It is that sense of immediate gratification of being nice, doing justice, and in so doing all will be well. The reality is this doing justice work is messy, hurtful, and difficult.  

This sword that Jesus speaks of can indeed cause pain and hurt, even suffering. When I have encountered anger and outrage and it is met with softness and kindness one can almost see the ensuing discomfort, and depending on the person, fear. Yes, even fear. When hostility is met with grace it does not know what to do: confusion of the unexpected. There is nothing that abusive language and hostility can do against charity, respect, and dignity, which rob hostility of its very basis of power. What hostility expects is to be met with hostility. That is the way of the world. Have you ever observed a quiet discussion escalate to a hostile argument and perhaps beyond? Why? Precisely because the ego must dominate, we must be right, we must prevail or our own sense of self is somehow damaged. As perverse as this may seem, I believe it to be true. I also believe that the more desperate the circumstances of people the truer this is. Compound that with a lack vocabulary, often the case with persons in poverty, and the argument translates into action when words fail. What is that action? Often that action is worked out as violence.

I once offered kind words to a very hostile and angry woman. I kept up those kind words no matter what she said. I asked her about her. She rebuffed the inquiry. "You don’t give a damn about me!" But I kept on. She did not relent, she kept at it, anger upon anger and it was as if each kind word were heaping burning coals upon her head. In the end she was exhausted and almost broken. She was broken by sword of dignity and justice. Perhaps she will heal and in healing be changed. Meeting anger and hostility with charity and kindness can be daunting for the giver and for the receiver. It is most counter cultural for us all.

The Rev. William H. Terry
I endorse--and am known to endorse--the full inclusion of LGBT community into the life of the Church. As they say, "all of the sacraments for all of the people." I once met a man who was, by many measures, a good man. He tried to be a "good father, churchman, and citizen." He worked hard and made a good living. His daughters went to a good college. 

This man was white, lived in a grand house in a conservative village and attended church regularly.  He too is an Episcopalian. He was my host for sermon invitation in this small north Louisiana town. Over coffee one morning we started to chat. It was the usual polite conversation and pedigrees that passed between us. You could almost see the check list: long hair "X", Navy veteran "√", family man "√", Rector of St. Anna’s Church ("the Gay Church") "X" and so on. But in the end, I guess I passed muster.

My host looked up at me with a degree of resignation and even anger and blurted out that he was sick, just sick of the way the LGBT community "hijacked" his church. "Anyone can do what they want but those people hijacked my church and forced those changes on me." He told me the story of when he first heard of an openly gay man being ordained Bishop who was in a committed relationship. "I wanted to throw up" he said. I took all of this in and I had that moment. You know the moment when everything slows down; you withdraw totally into yourself, and desperately look for a moment of clarity in the midst of the clutter of words and emotions. Fact, my very dearest friend in the entire world is gay. Fact, most of my circles of friends are gay. Fact, about one third or more of my parish is gay. How do I respond? To ignore his tirade and avoid the issue is quite southern and quite pleasant: denial. With that comes guilt usually later on. I can rationalize that by saying I was being a good guest. I just let him vent. He’ll never change.

Alternatively, I can get on my steed of self righteousness and argue about equality and even go into the scripture passages and from whence they came and make a Biblical case. That would back the guy in the corner and ultimately end up repelling him. It would further disenfranchise this man who is hurting and feeling betrayed. So how would the sword of justice fall upon him?

I simply said, "I understand. Your world was set, the rules made, and somewhere along the line the rules all changed. That has to seem like a betrayal. But you know the greater church did vote, so it wasn’t "them" it was us. Yet, I know that the world you depended on has changed." He paused, looked out at the distance and wondered. His anger had no more target, his sense of betrayal was acknowledged. He was validated yet his rant was not affirmed.

Yes, if we follow the mandates of Jesus, if we move to His beat and his story we will encounter divisions. Families will be set against one another: a mother against her son a father against his child, or parents against other relatives. So, often I see in social media proclamations regarding sexuality or poverty. The arguments going back and forth become ever so rancorous! A person working at our church has a daughter who is a lesbian. Distant family members will make posts about praying for her and all like her that they will be "fixed." How to respond, not betraying ones daughter, is a question often asked. You answer with a sword! The division will be what it will be. Meet it with the calmness and charity of righteousness that knows that you are proclaiming the gift of Jesus. Swords like this can hurt the enemy. Swords like this can and should be raised. Jesus was not an air brushed soft eyed savior. Around the hem of his garment was mud and dirt, his shirt filled with sweat, his brow burnt by the sun, his hands likely rough; he carried a sword not to bring peace but division. 


The Rev. William H. Terry is the Rector of St. Anna's Episcopal Church in New Orleans, an Integrity Proud Parish Partner.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Has the Church Forgotten It Has AIDS?

June 4 - 6, the Fourth Province of The Episcopal Church held its regular synod meeting at Kanuga Camp and Conference Center near Hendersonville, NC. Bruce Garner, Integrity's Province IV Coordinator, attended the synod in his capacity as a Lay Deputy to next year's General Convention from the Diocese of Atlanta.  He is one of three openly LGBT Deputies from that deputation.

Bruce set up a display in the lobby of the meeting room that included Integrity USA's tri-fold back drop, an assortment of brochures and a couple of baskets of buttons.  He also included a sign-up sheet for anyone who might be interested in being the contact person for their
diocese.

During a synod plenary session, Bruce made a presentation on the Province IV Network of AIDS Ministries Annual HIV Retreat, which would follow the synod on June 6-8.  This presentation included some startling statistics about HIV/AIDS in Province IV.  (He is Vice Chair of the planning committee that produces the retreat, now in its 23rd year.)  He then co-facilitated a workshop that went into more detail about how HIV/AIDS was affecting
Province IV with a much greater proportion of infections than the rest of the country and church.  (His co-facilitator was Lola Thomas, who chairs the Planning Committee and is Executive Director of a semi-rural AIDS service provider.)

He writes:
"Of the ten cities in the US with the highest HIV incidence rates, six of them are in Province IV.  Of the 20 highest, 12 are in Province IV.  And of the 50 highest, 19 are in Province IV.  The fourth ranked city for incidence rates is Jackson, Mississippi.  These figures were eye opening to those at the synod....as well they should be.

The sad reality is that The Episcopal Church has essentially abandoned domestic HIV/AIDS ministries.  As far as I know, the Kanuga Retreat is the only major HIV/AIDS activity undertaken as a Episcopal event anywhere in the church, beyond a handful of parish and diocesan ministries.  We have gone from being on the cutting edge to dragging up the rear.  Yet infection rates continue to rise with the fastest growing group being young men in their 20's and 30's, about half of whom are African American.  Most Episcopalians do not see many folks of color in their pews and thus do not realize we still have a problem."

The National Episcopal AIDS Coalition  provides some resources for individuals and congregations who seek to include HIV/AIDS concerns in their ministry.  The Welcoming Parishes Initiative provides guidance on how to become better educated about prevention, treatment and pastoral care, ideas for community involvement, and media for making your intentions known.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Raise a Glass: Stonewall at 45

On this date in 1969, a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York's West Village, a dive bar frequented by drag queens, street youth and other marginalized members of the LGBT community, was probably expected to be routine by the police and even the bar's Mafia-linked owners.

What unfolded instead, however, was that this time the people had had enough and fought back.  A riot ensued, attracting 500-600 people, and quickly spilled into the nearby streets.  The cops were outnumbered and tried barricading themselves inside, but were quickly flushed out of the only place that many of the bar's regulars could call home.
"Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us.... All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course," wrote participant Michael Fader. "We felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren't going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it's like standing your ground for the first time."
The melee lasted a few hours, but riots happened again twice more that week, and emboldened the city's (and then the nation's) LGBT community to start organizing itself in earnest, setting into motion the progress that continues today.  The following year, the first pride marches took place, not only in New York, but Los Angeles and Chicago.  The closest Sunday to the anniversary of the riots has become the focus of New York's pride celebrations. This event has become such a turning point in the movement that numerous groups across the country have appropriated the name of the bar as part of their own; making it synonymous with the quest for safety, freedom, and equality.

In the years since, we've stepped much more into the center of the culture, and one of the prices of assimilation is that many neighborhood bars like the Stonewall have passed into memory.   We have earned the right to be fully ourselves in many mainstream places, including many of our churches, and the Internet has made whole other kinds of community possible.

Crowd outside the Stonewall Inn the night the Supreme
Court ruled against DOMA and declined to defend
California's Proposition 8
The Stonewall, however, lives on, after a fashion.  It was largely destroyed in the riots and shut down shortly thereafter.  However, it re-opened in 1990 in half the original space, and both in 2011 when New York's marriage law was enacted, and last year when the Supreme Court issued its landmark rulings on marriage equality, it was there that we gathered.

As a sign of how far we've come, the bar was made a national historic landmark in 2000. President Obama referred to it, along Selma and Seneca Falls, in his second inaugural address as turning points for people under oppression. Last month, the National Park Service used the Stonewall as the venue when announcing a panel to identify and mark more key people and places in the LGBT rights movement, dating back to at least 1924.

I wasn't born yet when the riots happened, but I appreciate what they mean for me and the people on whose shoulders I stand.  I ask you to join me in raising a glass to the men and women who stood their ground on that fateful night, 45 years ago.

Were you part of the Stonewall Riots or similar key moments in LGBT liberation?  Please share your experience in the comments.

Christian Paolino is the Chair of Integrity's Stakeholders' Council and the Diocesan Organizer for Newark.  A graduate of William Paterson University and New School University, he blogs at The Verge of Jordan.